When it rains for an amateur sleuth in ancient Britannia, it pours.
Aurelia Marcella, who runs the busy roadside inn the Oak Tree Mansio with her brother Lucius, is excited to receive a party invitation from her cousin Jovina, whom she hasn't seen in more than three years. It's 100 CE, and Aurelia's distant outpost of the Roman Empire is a busy oasis on the long coast road from Eburacum to the city of York, leaving her little respite. The beginning of the missive is bright, but at the bottom there is a cryptic appeal: "Say nothing. Just come." She immediately prepares to do so, for Lucius can handle the mansio alone and, having brought his fiance Vitellia for a visit, may even welcome his sister's absence. But just as Aurelia is about to leave, one of the maids finds the body of Terentius, a Roman soldier who's been stabbed to death. His young slave boy is nowhere to be found. Lucius takes charge, and Vitellia acts like the mistress of the mansio, both irking Aurelia. Since curiosity about the murder is trumped by worry for her cousin, her course is clear. She decides to visit her neighbor Clarilla and ask her to keep a watchful eye. When she arrives, an uptight Roman named Portius is waiting for her, anxious to meet Terentius. The news of his death sends Portius into a fit of panic. Though Aurelia is in possession of Terentius' papers, she lies when Portius asks about them.
Aurelia's fourth adventure (Buried Too Deep, 2008, etc.) has richly drawn characters and captures an authentic period feel, but Finnis overloads early chapters with plot threads and peripheral people.